A few days ago, we brought you the first trailer for Judge Dredd: Superfiend, a six-part animated series from producer Adi Shankar and writers/directors The Junquera Brothers. The entirety of the series debuted about one week ago, and is the latest of Shankar’s projects which include producing the 2012 film Dredd starring Karl Urban, the Punisher short Dirty Laundry and the Venom short Truth in Journalism.
While I was a big fan of Dredd, I’m certainly not going to claim to be a die-hard fan of the 2000 AD comics or the title character’s own series. I say this only to temper expectations of those of you who eat, sleep, and breathe Dredd, because you may have a different reaction to this animated take than I did. That being said, I loved every twisted second of it. Watching Judge Dredd: Superfiend made me want to go back to the beginning of the comics and see just what all the fuss is about. Hit the jump for my Judge Dredd: Superfiend review.
Now, as Shankar himself says about the series, it’s a passion project inspired by the title character and his stories. Stylistically, it’s cast in the vein of Saturday Morning Cartoons, MTV’s 90s animated series, and shows like Ren & Stimpy and ReBoot. He’s certainly achieved that aim with Judge Dredd: Superfiend, which is reminiscent of the avant-garde animation of the 90s with the advantages of today’s computer animation technology. I’ll break the six-part passion project down a bit in my review, which follows below:
Upon getting my first glimpse of Judge Dredd: Superfiend, I was first reminded of MTV’s Liquid Television in the 90s, shows like Aeon Flux, The Maxx, and The Head. Others in the YouTube comment section have compared it to Invader Zim and one could even make a case for a similar dark humor styling to Courage the Cowardly Dog. The visual advantages that Superfiend has over many of those shows is that it has very little apparent oversight from censors, and can use computer animation to help pull off effects that hand-drawn animation would have a difficult time achieving. Characters can brutally murder each other, either from shredding their throats, shooting them through the head at point blank range, or beating them to death. Moments later, we can take a helicopter view of a high-speed chase between the Judges motorbikes and a crazed dentist’s mobile clinic. It’s pretty trippy stuff, but the style matches the story content. Oh, you want to know what it’s about?
The mini-series follows the exploits of Judge Sidney, a fan-favorite character perhaps better known as Judge Death. Centering the project on this character allows fans to see Sidney come to life in an animated form, and come into his own as a horrific, other-worldly version of the heroic Judge Dredd. While Judge Dredd: Superfiend doesn’t quite branch out to include the other Dark Judges or their numerous misadventures, it does give fans a taste of Sidney’s sadistic beginnings (and possible end).
The mini-series starts off with the origin story of Judge Sidney, who lives his early life in the tutelage of his sadistic dentist father. The two eventually have a run-in with the Judges, which changes both of their lives forever. Having become a Judge, Sidney acts out his ruthless and violent nature by passing death sentences on criminals, and altering their crimes to ramp up the punishment. It’s not long before Sidney has a brush with Death herself and becomes her very incarnation.
Those of you who are wondering if Judges Dredd and Hershey eventually show up, they sure do, along with some other characters from Dredd’s universe. Let’s just say that Judge Dredd: Superfiend becomes a family affair in more ways than one. There are likely way more Easter eggs and fan-favorite quotes scattered throughout the mini-series than I could ever be aware of, so that should make long-time readers happy. While the tone is ultra-violent and delightfully twisted, there’s not a whole lot of satire to be found. It’s less about making a sociopolitical statement than it is about seeing some insane characters come to life for the first time. Let’s face it, you probably won’t be seeing Judge Death in a live-action Dredd sequel any time soon, so Superfiend may be the closest you’ll get.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the presence that music has in Superfiend. It’s like watching a Gorillaz music video without any censors or restrictions. The lively soundtrack pairs up perfectly with the energetic visuals and vibrant scenes of gore and death. The music acts as more than a backdrop to each scene, taking on its own character, such as in the amped up club scene full of junkies, or when a severed head revolves on a spinning record playing “I’m in Heaven” over and over, or a sweet pop song that plays an overture to a bloody father-daughter sequence complete with killing spree. The bands may not be household names, but thankfully the series gives the musicians credit if you want to check out their work. It’s used quite well and makes an already enjoyable watch just that much more of an overloaded sensory experience.
Overall, Judge Dredd: Superfiend was an absolute blast to watch if only because I had no idea what was going to happen next. Sure, I may have gotten more out of it if I had more of a background from the comics before watching it, but the fact that it made me want to seek out the comics when it was all said and done tells me that some real fan-fueled passion went into making it. If you’re a fan of the comics, take a look and let us know what you think. If you’re new to Dredd or know relatively little about his world (like myself), have a watch and tell us your reaction in the comments section. Judge Dredd: Superfiend is most definitely worth a look and listen, and comes as a refreshing bit of darkness in the world of today’s comic book adaptations.